Unit 10: Leading Projects

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things" - Peter Drucker

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Management and leadership are not the same thing; but they are necessarily linked and complementary.

Perhaps there was a time when the calling of the manager and that of the leader could be separated – a foreman in an industrial-era factory probably didn’t have to give much thought to what he was producing or to the people who were producing it.

His job (and it invariably was a ‘he’) was to follow orders, organise the work, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure the job got done as ordered. That sounds like project management, doesn’t it?

These days, though, people look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organise workers, not just to maximise efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.

Essentially, the manager’s job is to plan, organise and coordinate; whereas, the leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.

So if leadership is essentially a strategic activity, in that it takes the long view of developing capacity, how does this reconcile with the fact that projects are more often than not short term activities?

After all, if a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result, do we really need do anything more than just get the job done?

Well, yes; and here’s why…

Firstly, even though a project is (by definition) temporary, there are many projects that can be years in their delivery – remember the Sydney Opera House?

And even if your project lasts less than a month, you still need to get the most out of your team, and that will inevitably require leadership.

Secondly, as we have pointed out in the earlier Modules, project teams are ad hoc, meaning that they are only convened for the project and disband immediately after.

Many project team members often only join for single phases, stages or even activities.

This means that your authority over them is transient, and they are unlikely to respond to orders and threats. Motivating and inspiring them to contribute is therefore the best strategy.

Finally, in as much as projects are discrete activities, if you are manager delivering different projects in the same organisation or among the same stakeholders, then the level of trust and respect you inspire will – over time – reflect upon you, your organisation and your projects.

At the most basic level, it will also reflect in your pay!